We’ve all been there: flipping through Amazon Prime Video’s movie offerings, but stuck wondering, Uh, what’s good? The commercial giant’s streaming service has quietly collected a giant archive of films, and since 2006, has released a number of acclaimed films under the Amazon Studios banner, like Sound of Metal, Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero, Leos Carax’s Annette, The Vast of Night, and Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake.
But along with originals, there are tons of back catalog picks just waiting to be discovered in the platform’s, let’s say, challenging UX. So we’ve looked through the service and cherry-picked some of our favorite films currently on the platform to try out. Our latest update added The Handmaiden as our editor’s pick for the month, and also Catherine Called Birdy.
Editor’s pick: The Handmaiden
Genre: Psychological erotic mystery thriller
Run time: 2h 24m
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo
Park Chan-wook is one of the greatest filmmakers working today, and his newest project Decision to Leave is my personal favorite movie of the year so far. He’s made many great movies (and a stellar TV show) over the years, but only one is available to watch on Amazon Prime: the excellent erotic historical mystery The Handmaiden.
Adapted from Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, Park takes the story to Japan-occupied Korea, following a pickpocket and a con man who together conspire to steal a wealthy Japanese heiress’s fortune. A winding tale of seduction and intrigue, it’s a wonderful playground for Park to deploy his distinct style, and is aided by terrific performances by Kim Tae-ri (as the pickpocket/titular handmaiden), Kim Min-hee (as the heiress), and Ha Jung-woo (as the con man).
So while you wait to see Decision to Leave (or after you do), go ahead and check in with (or revisit) The Handmaiden. You won’t regret it. —Pete Volk
Genre: Action thriller
Run time: 2h 16m
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González
A return to form for post-Transformers Michael Bay, Ambulance is a lean thriller that sees the blockbuster filmmaker extraordinaire return to his roots. The movie has an incredible extended chase sequence, terrific lead performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eiza González, and revolutionary drone camera work aided by Drone Racing League world champion Alex Vanover, who Bay recruited for the project. It’s one of the best movies of the year, and now that it’s on Prime, you have no excuse not to catch up with it. —PV
Catherine Called Birdy
Genre: Coming-of-age comedy
Run time: 1h 48m
Director: Lena Dunham
Cast: Bella Ramsey, Andrew Scott, Billie Piper
Lena Dunham’s delightful adaptation of the young adult novel set during medieval times is one of the best comedies of the year, anchored by warm and layered performances by Bella Ramsey and Andrew Scott and bringing a real teenage energy to a normally gray and dreary setting. —PV
From our review:
It isn’t a faithful adaptation of the book, but it’s the adaptation that works best for an audience discovering this story on screen. Catherine Called Birdy the movie tells a tighter story than the book’s delightful diary entries tell, and it needed a conclusion with more finality than a journal that simply runs out of pages. It’s an updated version of the story, but not updated out of cowardice over a tragic ending, or a “How do you do, fellow kids” misplaced attempt to appeal to young people by being “edgy” or “different.” Instead, the changes come from a desire to augment the best parts of the book. Catherine’s sharp narration and the insight into her daily Middle Ages life, juxtaposed with a more narratively cohesive conclusion, make the film stronger, and let Dunham seek her own path and audience
Genre: Sci-fi thriller
Run time: 1h 29m
Director: James Ward Byrkit
Cast: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon
Writer-director James Ward Byrkit’s 2013 sci-fi thriller Coherence is a taut puzzle box of multidimensional weirdness and fraught existential terror. Holding it all together are strong performances led by Emily Baldoni, Homeland’s Maury Sterling, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Nicholas Brendon. If you’re hungry for an intriguing blend of mumblecore cinema and sci-fi horror, Coherence is it. —TE
Fist of Fury
Genre: Martial arts drama
Run time: 1h 42m
Director: Lo Wei
Cast: Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee followed up his first action movie, The Big Boss, with Fist of Fury, which saw Lee take over as action choreographer as well as in the leading role. Lee plays Chen Zhen, a martial arts student looking to defend the honor of his school from a Japanese dojo that has been harassing and bullying them after the death of Chen’s teacher.
Probably the most famous scene from this movie comes when Chen visits the dojo and pummels every student, and the teacher, one by one. This movie has been remade many times (Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen all played Chen Zhen early on in their careers, and Chan briefly appears in this one), and the movie and character both earn their major legacy in the history of Hong Kong cinema and action cinema. —PV
Run time: 1h 33m
Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Doug Bradley
Clive Barker’s 1987 directorial debut adapts his 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart to tell the story of Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins). The Cottons are a married couple who move into the home of Larry’s recently deceased brother, Frank (Sean Chapman), with whom Julia had a previous affair. After inadvertently being resurrected by a drop of blood spilled by Larry on the floor of the house’s attic, Frank seduces Julia into luring new men to the house so that he can drain their life force and fully regain his mortal form. Surrounding this core narrative is the the story of the Lament Configuration, a puzzle box Frank acquired before his untimely death. When solved, it conjures hellish beings known as Cenobites to the mortal plane of existence, which indulge in hellish exercises of sadomasochistic mutilation. Easily the best and most enduring of the Hellraiser movie series, Barker’s 1987 original is a must-watch for horror fans. —TE
Genre: Action drama
Run time: 2h 39m
Director: Mari Selvaraj
Cast: Dhanush, Lal, Yogi Babu
Karnan (Dhanush) is a young, temperamental man from a village in southern Tamil Nadu who wants to set the world right all on his own. His village is prevented from getting its own bus stop, causing great strife for people of all generations — their lack of mobility to the city prevents children from going to good schools, adults from getting good jobs, and simply makes life difficult for the villagers. Karnan fights and fights and fights to make things right, taking on opponents as varied as police officers, people from another local village, friends and family who simply want to help, and his own demons.
This Tamil-language drama from director Mari Selvaraj is influenced by a real-life incident where hundreds of police attacked a village in Tamil Nadu. One of the highest-grossing Tamil films of 2021, it is Selvaraj’s follow-up to the award-winning Pariyerum Perumal.
Karnan is a beautiful film with powerful visuals, a terrific soundtrack filled with folk genre songs from local Tamil Nadu musicians, strong leading performances, and a palpable righteous anger at unjustness in the world. —PV
Love & Friendship
Run time: 1h 33m
Director: Whit Stillman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Morfydd Clark, Tom Bennett
After the death of her husband, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is looking for new husbands, plural — one for herself, and one for her only daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Lady Susan is an audacious flirt and a calculating schemer, and Beckinsale absolutely excels in the layered role, delivering a bold and unforgettable lead performance in an uproarious film. While writer-director Whit Stillman is known for modern day comedies of manners like Metropolitan and Barcelona, his 2016 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan is still firmly in his creative wheelhouse and stands as one of the funniest comedies in recent memory. —PV
Wrath of Man
Genre: Crime thriller
Run time: 1h 59m
Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Scott Eastwood
Guy Ritchie’s first collaboration with Jason Statham since 2005’s Revolver is a quieter, more restrained version of your typical Ritchie-Statham movie. Sure, it delivers on the action, and there are wise-cracking characters with names like “Boy Sweat” that you will only find in Ritchie movies. But Statham’s protagonist is a soft-spoken man of action, which differentiates him from many of the talkative-to-the-point-of-being-annoying Ritchie protagonists of movies past.
The action sequences hit hard and make great use of the geography — both the city streets of Los Angeles and a large depot where the climactic major heist is attempted. It’s also yet another example in a series of strong recent action movies about disgruntled veterans who turn to heists after being left behind by the government that sent them to fight. —PV